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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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EMPIRICAL

Empirical

Destin-E 777-001001001

 

 

 

 

 
1. Blessings
2. Tulumba
3. A Tyrant’s Tale
4. Clapton Willow
5. The Deep
6. Kite
7. Fat Cat
8. Palantir
9. Dark Lady
 
Shaney Forbes – Drums, percussion
Nathaniel Facey – Alto sax, voice
Jay Phelps – Trumpet, voice
Kit Downes – Piano
Neil Charles – Double bass
Dennis Rollins – Trombone
Courtney Pine – Bass clarinet

 

This is the debut album by a new British quintet (with a couple of guests on unspecified tracks). Four of the five musicians were members of Tomorrow’s Warriors and the fifth, Kit Downes, is a superbly assured pianist. They recently won the EBU European Jazz Competition, and they look as if they are destined to go far.

The line-up is the classic one of trumpet, sax, piano, bass and drums, and some tracks are reminiscent of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers – not only because of similar sounds but because of the thrusting nature of the performances. But the music is remarkably varied – from the hustling opening track, via the African folk moods of Tulumba (a tune by Ali Farka Touré) and the marching A Tyrant’s Tale, to the mysterious Dark Lady. In fact this album is a strange mixture of precision and raggedness. The precision is heard in the arranged and unison passages, where the musicianship is taut, but the group often moves into a sort of free-form playing which conjures up the ideas of Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane. The band even breaks into chanting on The Deep – which starts effectively but soon gets on one’s nerves, as do the repetitive sections later in the track.

One commendable part of this variety is that it shows how the group members have listened to jazz musicians from all periods and all styles – as well as a lot of world music. The influences listed on their website include Louis Armstrong, Ray Brown and Johnny Hodges, as well as Parker, Coltrane, and two Colemans (Colemen?) – Ornette and Steve. These influences are revealed in the adventurous range of styles. In this sense they remind me of Wynton Marsalis’s groups, which never underestimate the importance of the jazz tradition but usually avoid sticking too slavishly to traditional methods.

A track like Fat Cat swings like the clappers and includes excellent solos from Phelps, Facey and Downes, in straightforward post-bop style. But it’s followed by the 15-minute Palantir, which starts with an African-type rhythm with hints of reggae but then changes the beat to something heavier and more disjointed beneath a convoluted solo by the tune’s composer, Nathaniel Facey. It passes through several more transformations before floating into calm waters.

The CD was produced by Courtney Pine and appears on his own label. I have been doubtful about Courtney’s expertise ever since he said on his Desert Island Discs: "In America, a guy called Coleman Hawkins played Body and Soul – I think it was 1922 – but he played a wonderful solo on TV and that was it, the saxophone became a real instrument". But with this album Courtney seems to have made a good choice of a group that deserves to be heard. My dictionary defines empirical as "based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic". This band makes music that transcends theory and creates music that reflects a wide range of experiences.


Tony Augarde



 



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